Tips for traveling by ferry from Puntarenas to Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula

Clearly one of the highlights of our entire Costa Rica adventure was our time spent on the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast (read all about the amazing first house where we stayed here). To get to the Nicoya Peninsula from central Costa Rica, including San Jose, you will either catch a short flight to Tambor on Nature Air or go our highly recommended route: by ferry from Puntarenas.

The 1-hour scenic ferry ride to Paquera (similar to the journey to Playa Naranjo) is a true pleasure, and a great change of pace from a driving-intensive trip such as ours. Of course, kids love the excitement of traveling by water as well, with the wind in their hair, fresh-cooked empanadas in their teeth, and a view of sea birds diving as you pass by small, uninhabited islands, an occasional fishing boat, and the return ferry loaded with Ticos and tourists who can’t resist waving back at the kids.
It’s a festive place to be for sure, among the backpackers, surfers, multi-generational Tico families, and other adventurous families like your own who have traveled from around the globe and can’t wait to see the wilder side of Costa Rica on its southern Nicoya Peninsula. If you have the chance to go, and I hope you do, here are some tips to help make the most of your family’s ferry crossing from Puntarenas.

– As you near the turn off for the ferry loading zone, ignore the smiling guys in the middle of the street holding printed “FERRY” signs and suggesting you turn off early down a side street. They do not in fact work for the ferry, but would love to help you prepare for your journey by offering up information you will already know (especially if you’ve read this post) as wiser drivers fly past you and secure their positions in line ahead of you. In return for this favor, they will expect a cash tip.

–  Don’t arrive more than an hour ahead of time if you’ll be waiting with small kids in the car. While everyone advises you get in line no less than an hour before your departure, keep in mind that it will likely be hot, shadeless, and you won’t want to wander off and leave your rental vehicle here loaded with suitcases. Granted, while cutting it too close could set you back a couple of hours (also not desirable), we had no trouble getting onboard 30 minutes before our departure on the outbound ferry. On the return? I arrived and drove onboard 5 minutes before we departed—though no one should expect such luck!

– Ferry vessels typically alternate between large-capicty ferries with space for 100+ cars and smaller ferries holding only 42 cars. If you’ll be traveling in very high season, you may want to hedge your bets of getting onboard (without waiting forever in line) by aiming for a larger ferry (see the ferries and current schedule here).

– Park your car in line immediately upon your arrival. Once you are parked in the line up, you will go to pay your fare for your driver + vehicle, plus fares for your extra passengers, and return to your car with your receipts (a.k.a. tickets).

– Car passengers, like pedestrians, must all board the ferry on foot—leaving only the driver in the vehicle. Since each pays a separate fare, the pedestrians in your group will present their receipt as they board, and you will present your vehicle + driver receipt as you drive your car onto the ferry.

 – Ferry boarding usually begins around 15 to 20 minutes before the scheduled departure, but this time can vary. If your family does separate (to find a cold drink, or a restroom), make sure the driver has her receipt to board (or “ticket”) and the passengers have theirs as well, in case the line begins to move before you expect.

– Be sure to bring your diaper bag / day pack, camera, and anything you’ll want—including an extra layer for the breeze on deck—with you when you leave your car as passengers are not allowed in the vehicle hold during the crossing.

– Once your car is parked onboard, you can relax and enjoy the ride. Meet up with your family at the concessions counter up top, get some pollo frito (fried chicken) and cold drinks, grab some seats with a great view and get ready for some scenic sailing across the Gulf of Nicoya.
– Once they give the signal to return to your vehicle, load up the whole family. Unlike your embarkation where you presented separate receipts, there’s no need for car passengers to walk off separately, and trying to meet up on the other end as cars whiz past can be chaotic.

Related posts and pages:See all related tips for family travel to Costa Rica

Safe journeys,
Shelly Rivoli
All content of this blog (c) Shelly Rivoli